Golisano vs Pegula: The next owner of the Buffalo Bills?

bills-store-story

The new owner will get a revamped stadium, but will they want to build a new one?

The front-runners to buy the Buffalo Bills seem to be two people we are already familiar with in Tom Golisano and Terry Pegula, the previous and current owners of the NHL’s Buffalo Sabres. Golisano may have a harder time buying the team on his own and a partnership with Syracuse developer Scott Congrel was short-lived and fell through. Pegula on the other hand has already cleared enough capital to bid on the Bills by selling some land worth 1.5 Billion shortly after the Bills started the selling process. So if the bidding comes down to these two men, who stands to have the best chance of placing the winning bid and more importantly which owner would be best for the Bills?

Tom Golisano is also a serious buyer for the Bills! Photo Via www.buffalonews.com

Tom Golisano is also a serious buyer for the Bills! Photo Via http://www.buffalonews.com

Tom Golisano made his money starting a payroll processing company called Paychex in 1971. His current net worth is just over $2 billion and, according to Forbes magazine, Golisano sits on the board of trustees of the Rochester Institute of Technology and is the national spokesman and major funder of the National Popular Vote Initiative, an organization dedicated to abolishing the Electoral College and instituting the direct election of the President of the United States by popular vote. Buffalo sports fans will be forever grateful to Golisano for saving the Buffalo Sabres and keeping them in Buffalo when he became owner in March of 2003. Golisano took over a sinking ship, pulling the team out of bankruptcy and tightly managing the team’s finances in order to turn a profit. Unfortunately, fans thought Golisano ran the team on the cheap and that may be one reason fans won’t want to see him running the Bills. I think we all remember that first day of free agency in 2007. The Sabres were coming off one of their best back-to-back pair of seasons, and we had some key players hitting the free agent market. Our team captains, Chris Drury and Daniel Briere, wanted to stay, and the money they were asking for ended up being a steal if they would have signed them before the end of the season. For some reason, however, the team didn’t negotiate during the season. Painfully, we watched that day as Briere went to the Flyers for eight years and $50 million and Drury left for the Rangers on a five year $35 million deal despite the Sabres finally agreeing to match the offer to Drury (each guy was willing to stay in Buffalo for five years at $25 million just a few months before, but the team and Golisano said no). The Sabres then overpaid for Thomas Vanek being forced to give him an eight-year deal at $80 million to avoid a fan rebellion thanks to an offer sheet signed by the Edmonton Oilers. The moves had fans scratching their heads and questioning ownership and management. To really put a dagger in our hearts, we watched home-grown Brian Campbell get traded to the Sharks the following year in another move seemingly fueled by money, and those moves tore apart a team once on the cusp of winning the Stanley Cup. Let’s not forget Golisano also introduced one of the worst jersey designs ever with a yellow logo known unaffectionately as “the slug.” In 2011, Golisano sold the team to Terry Pegula for a reported $170 million. Apparently, he turned down a deal that would have paid him more for the team but would have led to the team being relocated.

Now, there’s a lot of differences between running a small market NHL team and running an NFL franchise, so using Golisano’s previous ownership experience with the Sabres may not be the best way to foreshadow how he’d manage the Bills. The questions Bills Nation may have: (1) would he run the team the same as the Sabres choosing to focus more on profit than on production? (2) Could a similar Drury and Briere situation arise on the Bills? (3) Can fans trust that Golisano would do what’s best for the team and the fans and not his bottom line? Perhaps Golisano knows he needs to right those wrongs described above in the eyes of us fans and what better way than taking the Bills to the Super Bowl and a long-awaited championship.

Photo Via the Buffalo News

Photo Via the Buffalo News

On the other hand, Terry Pegula made his money in the oil and fracking industry. As the story goes, he received a $7,500 loan from friends and family in 1983 in order to drill sand wells which jump started his company East Resources. Pegula became a pro sports owner after he sold his oil and gas company Royal Dutch Shell for $4.7 billion in 2010. He began investing in his favorite hockey programs in 2011 and fulfilling a long time dream of his by buying the Sabres from Golisano for $189 million. He donated $102 million to his alma mater, Penn State, to build a hockey arena, and he is currently investing $170 million in his Harbor Center development downtown next to the First Niagara Center. According to Forbes Magazine, Pegula is currently worth around $3.3 billion. Terry Pegula instantly became a fan favorite when he bought the team in February 2011. Even the Sabres play improved from all the excitement. The team was in 9th when Pegula took over and they ended up finishing 7th while selling out every remaining home game. In the offseason, he started a multi-million dollar renovation of the newly-renamed First Niagara Center, which included remodeled locker rooms and upgraded training facilities, a players’ lounge, and coach’s offices. Pegula then set his sights on the Rochester Amerks and purchased them as well, re-uniting the Sabres with their long time AHL team. Pegula also made it a point to bring back alumni, make them accessible to the public, and honor them during games, which was a total change in culture from previous ownership ideology. Western New York even witnessed the return of Dominik Hasek, the greatest goaltender in Buffalo sports history, and retired his jersey. A few criticisms of Pegula have included how he handles big changes and decisions. Pegula tends to use a wait-and-see approach instead of just going in and starting from scratch. He kept the embattled coach and GM and it took him moves spanning two seasons to finally clean house and bring new guys in. However, I’m pretty sure he made up for waiting when he showed up with Pat Lafontaine as his operations director and Ted Nolan as his interim coach. Bills Nation has to like what they have seen from Pegula’s time with the Sabres and can only imagine what he could do as a Bills owner. With the prospect of a new stadium in the Bills future and Pegula already with several successful development projects under his belt, the future could be very bright for Bills fans and football in WNY if he’s owner.

Terry and Kim are very interested in owning the Bills! - Photo Via The Buffalo News

Terry and Kim are very interested in owning the Bills! – Photo Via The Buffalo News

Personally, I would like to see Pegula end up as the Bills new owner. I think he brings an energy and excitement to Buffalo that we haven’t seen before. He’s not just the owner of the Sabres; he changed the culture and the feel of being a Sabre and the experience fans get at the games. He’s actually putting up an amazing building right near Canalside, which will finally bring some life and give people a reason to go near the arena even when there’s not a game. I can’t wait to see the finished product when Harbor Center opens later this year. Pegula is a man who brings freshness with him and progress. Look what he’s been able to do in just three years. I think he’s learned from his mistakes thus far and can apply what he’s learned as the owner of the Bills. Golisano means well and he stood by his word of making sure the Sabres wouldn’t leave, and they didn’t. However the way he ran the team and the moves they made and did not make are not the moves serious owners with serious aspirations for winning make. It has been seven years and there is still a lot of bitterness from fans surrounding the Drury and Briere debacle. Do I think he would be a capable owner though? Yes, I do. But it is hard not to root for a guy like Pegula. Whoever eventually ends up owning the team, I think we in Bills Nation only want two things: First, an owner who knows how to put the right people in the right places in management; and second, understanding what it means when we say: “Where would you rather be than right here, right now?”

By

Jason Sinsabaugh

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One Comment on “Golisano vs Pegula: The next owner of the Buffalo Bills?”

  1. Pat Murray July 24, 2014 at 5:00 pm #

    It’s not Dominic Hasek, it is Dominik Hasek.

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